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“20 Years of Hype!.”

I’m from Indiana, so I’ve elected not to even attempt to be funny here, [1] but I can’t help noticing that this Hype! motion picture soundtrack plays like a dead ringer for one of my mixtapes, which will often open with a perky combo of something like Pearl Jam/Throwing Muses/Hum. Granted, this isn’t a Northwest combo, the Muses hailing from the Boston area and Hum from the Midwest, but I guess I’m saying this as a way of expressing how incredibly live, natural and vital this disc sounds.

It opens with “K Street” by The Fastbacks, a band featured prominently in the film in interview form for their charming obscurity and earnest, loving embrace of catchy power pop. Akin in many ways to Flop, also featured on Hype!, their music rests in the listener’s mind with considerable universal enjoyability — palm mutes flank the perky second verse, and the sugary and bouncy vocals bespeak volumes of pain, feeling and integrity.
Aside from this brief sanctuary of melody, the Hype! soundtrack is about what you’d expect it to be, and if any band on the planet not named Liars can make rock music that’s legitimately scary, it’s certainly Seattle’s founding grunge scoundrels the U-Men. Along with the Nirvana cover songs source The Wipers and the Mark Arm-fronted Green River of the mid-’80’s, these guys sully the middle void left by the commercial side of grunge — theirs is an uncompromising humanistic bludgeoning entirely emaciating of the stigma against loudness and sadism in popular music. The concepts lie inherent in the rhythms and structural changes of the songs, not in some melodramatic lyricism or fantasy, a plague so pervasively hounding heavy metal.
Once Soundgarden pipe in with the deliberate statement of bombast that is “Nothing to Say,” and we wade into the squalling mist of Kurt Cobain’s yelp, the feeling that this is an underground piece of music, per se, dissipates considerably. Still, an undeniable common characteristic affecting every track on this album is loud, literally physical, drums. During “Nothing to Say,” Matt Cameron’s patient pummeling is rendered so powerfully by engineer Jack Endino that the result is literally like a sonic wind tunnel — the snare timbre evades analysis, sending your mind packing in the other direction, in pure “evasive action,” to use a Catch-22 term. Loud drums became the most acutely sought Nirvana mechanism well into their salad says, which is ironic since their Unplugged album arguably encompasses their finest material.
As far as the selection on the soundtrack goes, I am thoroughly bemoaning the absence of a couple bands, and these would be the Monomen and Blood Circus (also where’s Alice in Chains, poor Layne Staley!) Each of these outmodes the Posies in my mind in grunge credibility. Girl Trouble, though, on the other hand, are getting my underdog of the year, after making relatively little impression in the film — the Cramps-like selection of “My Hometown,” sort of a twisted, cathartic rockabilly take on the 12-bar blues, finds its full inclusion, rather than just a snippet, overwhelmingly becoming. The Howling Diablos did something similar with their song “Nobody in Detroit” — taking the corporeality entirely away from the subject matter’s grasp, and grafting a simple memorandum against the totality of their native environs. This, arguably, is the very essence of punk rock.
Further along these lines, the Hype! soundtrack is generally very out of character of commercial “grunge,” as we know it, it’s much more just like the Northwest’s hybrid of punk, spearheaded primarily by The Wipers, and marked by backbeat — that is, snare hits on the two and four, not the upbeat of the one, two, three and four, which would denote the m.o. of Cali bands like Strung Out and Bad Religion. Nihilism and destruction tend to take the helm as themes, both explicitly lyrical as well as implied by the reckless abandon of the music itself, whereas cultural outliers like women and minorities are buoyed in the moral odes of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the message of R.E.M.’s liberal mainstream ’90’s. Grunge as marked by this cinematic collection is desperate music of survival, visceral therapy for the outcasts rejected by the contemporary slick liberalism of the radio.
For this reason, it’s in no way accidental that the word grunge appears nary on the entire compilation, giving way to rather “northwest rock explosion,” and to Kurt Cobain’s credit, who was vocally dismissive of Pearl Jam, the latter do seem out of place here. [2] Nonetheless, the Nirvana selection “Negative Creep,” ingratiating itself to its peers as it does, stands in stark contrast to the band’s later material, which took a more power pop format and propagated catchiness and melody. Seeing as one of Cobain’s pet peeves seems to be the very courting and achievement of mainstream success, it becomes less surprising that he eventually approached such a fatal level of self-loathing. Indeed, the movie Hype! takes no scruples before showcasing Nirvana as a bit of a giant surrounded by mortals, and I think it’s a testament to the power of this music in general that in the faces of hundreds of millions of fans, the omnipresent challenge still rings loud and clear in Nevermind’s “On a Plain”: “What the hell am I trying to say?”
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[1] During Eddie Vedder’s interview in the 1996 documentary Hype! he makes a comment about the keen sense of humor of all native Seattleites, a remark which is followed by a silence, and then the coy admission that “I’m obviously not from here.”
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[2] Eddie Vedder is actually from California, to make matters worse.

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